Sunday, February 22, 2004


Wrong usage of words is the bane of PR practitioners who care about accuracy and good writing. To find that you have used the wrong word for some time is embarrassing. This happened to me last week in a meeting with my boss and a client. My boss used the word "factoids" to describe a listing of facts that we were thinking of using for a client. Then he said that he really shouldn't be using that word because it means a misleading fact. I objected as did two other of my colleagues who were present. "Factoid" means a short fact, we said. There is nothing misleading about it. My boss said he had checked it recently in the dictionary, and it does mean misleading. We said we would consult our own dictionaries rather than his and prove him wrong. The client was grinning throughout.

Well, my boss was right. "Factoid" does refer to a misleading use of facts. I don't know why I never knew that, but I didn't. It bothered me for two straight days so I went back to the online dictionaries again and checked once more. It turns out that a secondary and less preferred meaning is a "short fact." So I was one-quarter right and three-quarters wrong. Interestingly, the old Webster's Second Edition that I have at home doesn't have "factoid" at all.


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